Nasty Boys

The women screwed by Rent-A-Center are threatening to take the company to the cleaners. But Ernie Talley and the rest of his Texas bubbas are trying to have the last laugh.

Bunch and Levings, the Kansas City plaintiffs, refused to talk to the Riverfront Times, citing instructions from their lawyers; the lawyers did not return repeated calls.

But back in federal court in East St. Louis, Herndon demanded an explanation from Rent-A-Center's lawyers. They insisted that Sedey, Ray and Schlichter were invited to talk about a settlement, a claim the women's lawyers say is untrue. Rent-A-Center's lawyers also asked Herndon to delay ruling on the motion for class certification until March 6, the final approval-hearing date scheduled in Kansas City, but Herndon refused to stop his case; on Dec. 27, he granted Claudine Wilfong and the other women's request, in effect creating a second, competing class of Rent-A-Center women.

Rent-A-Center sent a memo to its employees informing them of the Kansas City settlement and urged female employees to participate. The Kansas City lawyers are doing the same. On the other side, the EEOC and the lawyers in the East St. Louis case are fighting back, asking the women to opt out of the Kansas City settlement. Sedey claims she knows that at least 950 women asked to be taken out of the Kansas City case.

The EEOC blasts the proposed settlement. Harper says the relief is inadequate -- "and I'm not just talking about money. I'm talking about jobs and injunctions, what they plan to do in the future and how they plan to do it."

When Claudine Wilfong found out about the Kansas City shuffle, she wasn't surprised.

"I just felt like they were trying to get one over on the women again," Wilfong says. "They're looking for any way to get rid of us." The amount the company wants to pay would just be "a slap on their hands, and it was really nothing compared to what they did and how many women's jobs are gone."

Leigh, the former exec who had an unhappy run-in with Talley, says she doesn't know much about the Kansas City settlement, but, judging from what her lawyer tells her, she agrees: It's another attempt by Rent-A-Center to screw its ex-employees.

It took Leigh nearly a year to line up new work after she was let go. It was hard enough to understand why she'd been fired, let alone explain the situation to new employers. After she finally landed a high-level position with another company, she agreed to get involved in the suit in an attempt to correct "something that was wrong."

Even if she wins, Leigh says, she'll always be haunted by the fear that she carries "the taint that goes along with women who complain about sexual harassment."

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